Catching On – Parshat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5773

We often associate things that are contagious with something bad.  During the winter months, it becomes survival of the fittest when it comes to staying flu-free.  People take extra precautions to protect themselves from the contagious spread of infection.  Rightly so, as the flu or even a nasty cold is nothing to sneeze at (hardy har).  We protect ourselves from the germs around us by not hugging or shaking hands and,especially at school, using hand sanitizer every chance we get.

Illness isn’t the only kind of contagion.  Ever have a song get stuck in your head because someone else was singing it? Or have you succumbed to a certain trend because of peer pressure?  But despite these connotations, “catching”something isn’t always negative, it just depends on the situation.

This week we read the double portions of Acharei Mot and KedoshimParshat Acharei Motreminds us of the laws regarding our food and observance of the holiday of Yom Kippur.  It also teaches us the value of an appropriate and intimate relationship with family and friends. Parshat Kedoshim expands upon these rules by teaching us about what makes a community into a holy community, including additional rules about how to treat friends and what we can and cannot do for those in need.  This entire set of instructions comes to form the basis of what it means to be a part of a caring community.

Why is it important for us to be holy?  The text of parshat Kedoshim begins in the plural, “Kedoshim Tihiyu.”  You all shall be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.  The commentators find it odd to see holiness in the plural form, as if holiness could be applied both individually and as a group, regardless of who makes up that group. In fact, one insight teaches that this is precisely because the capacity for holiness is not restricted to spiritually gifted people.  Holiness is not reserved for the rabbis or those on a “higher plane.”  Rather,holiness is for the masses; anyone can attain it.

Furthermore, the plural phrasing suggests that not only is group holiness possible, it is most easily achieved in the context of a community.  Think about how difficult it would be for a person to live a life of holiness without others.  And our parshah suggests that it’s not enough for each individual to be holy on his own.  In this case, the whole (or holy) is greater than the sum of its parts.  When a community dedicates itself to the pursuit of holiness, its members support and reinforce the holiness in each other.

Our theme as a school this year is Kedushah, holiness.  It stands for holiness in our relationships with others, holiness in the way we view ourselves, and holiness in the way we treat our school, our homes, and the world in which we live.  May we learn to think in the plural when it comes to holiness so that the good we do catches on.

THIS TOO IS TORAH: Acharei Mot is where we get the English term “scapegoat.”  Part of God’s instruction is that Aaron should lay his hands on a live goat, confess the sins of the Israelites, and then send the goat off into the wilderness, carrying all of the community’s transgressions with it.  How do you deal with feelings of guilt after you’ve done something wrong?

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